Mantel - mantle

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Be careful to distinguish the homophones 'mantel' and 'mantle' - both pronounced IPA: /'mæn təl/.

  • A mantel is either the structure, usually of wood or stone, around a fireplace - for which the word 'mantelpiece' is more commonly used - or a shelf above this structure - for which the word 'mantelshelf' is sometimes used.
  • A mantle may be either, literally, a cloak or, metaphorically, a cloak regarded as a symbol of authority, as in 'While still a young man, he assumed his father's mantle and took over the management of the family firm'. The word is also used of the small dome-shaped or cylindrical mesh which is placed around the flame of an oil or gas lamp to increase the amount of light it produces. Again metaphorically, the word is sometimes used when something completely covers or envelops something else, as in 'The countryside was covered with a mantle of snow' and 'The new proposals are still wrapped in a mantle of secrecy'. And in geology the mantle is the part of the earth which lies beneath the planet's crust and envelops its core.

Both 'mantel' and 'mantle' have the same etymology, coming through French from the Latin mantellum, the diminutive of mantum, a cloak. The word mantum is still used in the Roman Catholic Church: it is the name of the cope, or long cloak, worn by the Pope on certain ceremonial occasions.

Do not confuse either the common noun mantel or mantle with the surname Mantel, borne by, among others, the British novelist Hilary Mantel - who pronounces it with the stress on the second syllable, 'man-TELL', IPA: /mæn 'tɛl/.